BOOKS Lawyer, au­thor taps into own ex­pe­ri­ence

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - ERIC VOLMERS

Call it the tale of two cities. In fact, au­thor and crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer Christo­pher Nowlin would prob­a­bly ap­pre­ci­ate the lit­er­ary al­lu­sion. His new crime novel, Tough Tid­dly­winks, shows the Leth­bridge na­tive and one­time Univer­sity of Cal­gary phi­los­o­phy ma­jor has not quite got­ten over the prickly re­la­tion­ship he has with his adopted home of Van­cou­ver.

He worked through some of those feel­ings with his de­but novel, 2008’s To See the Sky, which he once de­scribed as “a dark satire of Van­cou­ver’s in­flated ego.”

His fol­lowup, which in­cludes il­lus­tra­tions by the au­thor, also takes place in con­tem­po­rary Van­cou­ver and ex­plores the city’s var­i­ous cul­tural fac­tions and eco­nomic in­equal­ity. But it also in­volves Detroit, an­other big city that Nowlin found both fas­ci­nat­ing and dis­turb­ing.

“There’s a con­stant through­line of Detroit in the story and I’m very in­ter­ested in the his­tory of Detroit,” says Nowlin, who will give a read­ing at Pages on Kens­ing­ton on Tues­day. “I found it very sig­nif­i­cant from a nar­ra­tive per­spec­tive. My book was in­spired at the out­set by the great re­ces­sion, the crash of early 2008 and late 2007. I was in­trigued with how the Amer­i­can econ­omy and even­tu­ally the global econ­omy was dealt a blow, lev­elled in a sense, over what I con­sid­ered to be con­sump­tive habits of Amer­i­cans over lev­er­ag­ing them­selves with real es­tate.

“I’m very in­ter­ested in con­sumer be­hav­iour and I wanted to ad­dress this Amer­i­can as­pect of the great re­ces­sion. To me, it’s the per­fect metaphor for the ex­pan­sion of Amer­i­can in­dus­try and growth of the Amer­i­can econ­omy. And now it’s dra­mat­i­cally im­ploded and it’s strug­gling to sur­vive. In and of it­self, it high­lights the dan­gers of un­bri­dled eco­nomic growth. That’s an im­por­tant theme in my story.”

As you may have sur­mised, Nowlin’s work tends to have an po­lit­i­cal edge to it that cuts into top­i­cal so­cial jus­tice is­sues. Tough Tid­dly­winks may be a mys­tery about the mur­der of un­scrupu­lous real-es­tate de­vel­oper Don Dick­er­son, but it also ex­plores con­cerns that Nowlin has about the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. In the book, a young First Na­tions man, Ryan Ghost­keeper, is ar­rested for the mur­der. Other char­ac­ters in­clude an anti-de­vel­op­ment group called The Re­sis­tance led by East Van­cou­ver’s hard­core pro-bicycling ac­tivists and a teacher from Detroit. Our pro­tag­o­nist is Han­nah Verso, a for­mer “tro­phy girl­friend” who is torn be­tween the worlds of the wealthy and the ide­o­log­i­cal.

“There’s been a turn in my own ap­proach to writ­ing about what I con­sider to be im­por­tant so­cial is­sues that I felt I should change my au­di­ence,” he says.

“I’ve been writ­ing non-fic­tion so long and I know those ar­ti­cles get cir­cu­lated among aca­demics and such, but there was a con­scious de­ci­sion on my part to start try­ing to reach a wider au­di­ence. With Tough Tid­dly­winks I re­ally thought I could now ex­plore some of my con­cerns and in­ter­ests with the le­gal sys­tem and eco­nom­ics and stuff with a wider-reach­ing for­mat.”

Nowlin’s last high-pro­file case in Cal­gary in­volved de­fend­ing Natalie Pasqua, who pleaded

pre­sents his book Tough Tid­dly­winks Tues­day at 7:30 p.m. at Pages on Kens­ing­ton. guilty to man­slaugh­ter in 2008 for push­ing a 17-year-old to his death be­tween the mov­ing cars of a CTrain af­ter a drug dis­pute. The au­thor’s non-fic­tion book, Judg­ing Ob­scen­ity: A Crit­i­cal His­tory of Ex­pert Ev­i­dence, was nom­i­nated for the Shaugh­nessy Co­hen Prize for Po­lit­i­cal Writ­ing in 2003. He is of­ten called upon by the me­dia to dis­cuss var­i­ous le­gal is­sues, most no­tably as a critic of the con­tro­ver­sial Mr. Big stings, where po­lice pose as pow­er­ful gang­sters to get con­fes­sions from those they are pre­tend­ing to re­cruit, that are used as ev­i­dence in mur­der tri­als.

For Tough Tid­dly­winks, Nowlin says he also drew from his ex­pe­ri­ences with First Na­tions clients, par­tic­u­larly in south­ern Al­berta.

“There still are racial over­tones among Cana­di­ans to­wards First Na­tions people and I’m want­ing to bring that out and show that we haven’t quite got­ten there in terms of al­ways see­ing First Na­tions ac­cused with­out hav­ing pre­sup­po­si­tions,” he said.

Born in Leth­bridge, Nowlin started study­ing pre-en­gi­neer­ing be­fore get­ting an MA in phi­los­o­phy. That led to, well, un­em­ploy­ment and some sec­ond-guess­ing about his ca­reer choice.

“With a mas­ter’s de­gree in phi­los­o­phy, you’re not the most em­ploy­able,” he said with a laugh. “I ended up liv­ing in Mon­treal and lik­ing it but even­tu­ally want­ing to go back to school. That’s when I went to the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa for law school.”

He has lived in Van­cou­ver for years. But, he ad­mits he still has that afore­men­tioned “mixed re­la­tion­ship” with the city, which helps give his fic­tion a satir­i­cal edge.

“I’ve never lived in a city like this,” he says. “Cal­gary isn’t on par. If I’m in Cal­gary I still sense a mid­dle class, it’s still ob­vi­ous to me. Whereas in Van­cou­ver I find it more dif­fi­cult to rec­og­nize. I see a lot of wealth around me or in­tense poverty. That’s what fas­ci­nates me about Van­cou­ver.”

Christo­pher Nowlin

Tough Tid­dly­winks by Christo­pher Nowlin ex­plores the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. Christo­pher Nowlin

Christo­pher Nowlin

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